By Vatican News
The number of children left orphaned or unaccompanied because of the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has more than doubled since April.
According to a UNICEF report, nearly 1,400 children have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the outbreak began just over a year ago.
In the same period, nearly 3,000 children have been separated from their parents or caregivers: either left alone while adults are being treated, or isolated because they have been in contact with someone affected by Ebola.
Pierre Ferry is the Head of UNICEF's child protection programs in DRC. He describes children watching their parents die in front of them, or seeing their loved ones taken to Ebola treatment centres, unsure if they will ever come back.
Many older children are left to comfort and care for their younger siblings. Others face discrimination, stigmatization and isolation.
For children who do not have surviving parents, the needs are longer-term.
Psychosocial workers try to place children with relatives or foster families. This can be challenging, given the economic burden of raising other children and the pervasive fear of catching the disease or being associated with it. This often requires delicate mediation and financial support for food, school fees and other necessities.
UNICEF is working closely with partners and communities to quickly identify affected children and tailor support to meet their broad physical, psychological and social needs.
According to Pierre Ferry, the psychosocial workers that come from the affected communities are among the most effective: “They have been able to reduce harmful discrimination and misinformation”, he says, “and to increase the acceptance and commitment of the community, which is crucial to stopping the epidemic”.